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Full text of "Music and history"

MUSIC AND HISTORY 



BY 






PAUL HENRY LANG 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2012 with funding from 
Wellesley College Library 



http://archive.org/details/musichistoryOOIang 



\ vs.- •--. Co\\ 



ONE OF A SERIES OF LECTURES ESTABLISHED 
IN HONOR OF HELEN KENYON • ALUMNA 
TRUSTEE 1923-1928 • CHAIRMAN OF THE 
BOARD OF TRUSTEES 1929-1939 



PUBLISHED FROM THE 

MARY CONOVER MELLON FUND 

FOR MUSIC LITERATURE 



MUSIC LIBRARY 






L ' 



COPYRIGHT, I953, BY VASSAR COLLEGE 



MUSIC AND HISTORY 



MUSIC AND HISTORY 

Ladies and Gentlemen: 

This palatial music building is extraordinary even among the 
many sumptuous edifices possessed by some of our great music 
schools and conservatories. But what distinguishes it more than 
the eminently thoughtful and practical arrangement of its space 
is the instruction imparted within its walls. For this is a depart- 
ment in a liberal arts college and not a school or conservatory 
of music. Needless to say, I do not wish to imply that an 
academic department of music is, by its very nature, superior 
to a school of music; it stands to reason that art comes first 
and its study and criticism follow. What I mean is that in this 
country — as in England, whence our collegiate system comes 
— we tend to confuse the functions of the two institutions, 
with the result that music in the college, which is an institution 
of higher education (and perhaps even of learning), is often 
not taught as one of the liberal arts but as a skill, only tenuously 
related to the other subjects of instruction and intellectual 
endeavor. 

This college can take pride in the fact that it is not so at 
Vassar, for its music department puts to shame the under- 
graduate division of many a great university. One man is re- 
sponsible for this enlightened attitude. He not only virtually 
designed this building, but planned the curriculum, organized 
the fine library, and himself took charge of the historical 
courses that became models of their kind. I am happy to pay 
tribute to George Dickinson in his own home. Everyone 
knows about his achievements at Vassar, but he has done much 
more: he has vitally influenced the cause of musical education 
and scholarship all over the land. Now, as I turn to the business 
in hand, I do so with the feeling that lectures of this sort would 
not be delivered in our colleges were it not for his long and 
patient work and determination to make music instruction in 
the college worthy of the sister disciplines. 



[5] 



It is entirely owing to our ways of learning and teaching 
music that there are relatively few who clearly perceive 
what music means within the history of civilization, and 
thus what it means to the nation and its culture. In this billow- 
ing fog in which all contours of thought are lost, the figures of 
the past other than the principal heroes of recent times sink to 
the status of mere means by which the so-called music historian 
satisfies his desire for a play with esthetics, forms, and tech- 
niques. We might call this sort of art history — to use a termi- 
nology much in vogue these days — a mere historical eroticism, 
for it eschews the essence of the scholarly procedure: objec- 
tivity and rigorous regard for the truth. Historiography, even 
in the arts, cannot be legitimized on grounds of beauty alone. 

The most common approach to musical history is, of course, 
the time-honored biographical or " personal history " method. 
We might call this the method of idealization by isolation. 
But the detached single individual, even if he becomes a typical 
representative of a historical epoch, cannot always be grasped 
as such; in fact, in many instances he appears as a strange, not 
readily understandable phenomenon that refuses to be recon- 
ciled with the milieu. Perhaps the best known — and least 
understood — of these strange phenomena is Bach, who simply 
evades all attempts at classification, even though he is con- 
sidered the embodiment of the High Baroque. 

Even when we deal with musical history on a plane con- 
siderably higher than hero worship, what we examine and teach 
is not the history of music as an integral part of the history of 
ideas, but the history of a craft or metier. Now while the craft 
of music is of the utmost importance, it should not occupy the 
forefront in musical historiography. Every one of us has had 
the experience of listening to a fine musician performing with 
a flawless technique, yet the music rising from the strings or 
from the throat was dead, because the mere technician was con- 
fused by precisely that which is served by his technique. This 

[6] 



concept that equates the evolution of the metier with history 
has led to a most regrettable attitude in viewing musical history, 
one which has actually tended to ruin our appreciation of 
music, of a legion of fine composers, and of a library full of 
great music. 

I am referring to the prevalence of the honored institution of 
" forerunner." A few examples will help. When listening to 
Weber's Euryanthe, one of his forgotten works precisely on 
account of its experimental and forward-looking nature, the 
listener cannot suppress his suspicion of plagiarism — from 
Lohengrin. This may seem a chronological paradox, which 
turns the real facts upside down, yet given our conditioning 
the earlier work becomes mediatized; it tends to lose rather 
than gain in standing. According to this conception new, 
shall we say, " inventions " in music lose all their interest, and 
their original freshness cannot be recaptured and enjoyed. The 
idea is of no importance since a later composer embodied it in 
a seemingly fuller measure. However, if the innovation is of a 
technical nature, the first employment of an instrument or of a 
chord, the record stands to the credit of the bold craftsman. 
It is of no use pointing out that the direct forerunner principle 
seldom works out satisfactorily, even if we tacitly accept this 
method which demotes great composers to the status of mere 
yeomen. Take the senior Bach, to choose this paragon of 
musical virtue acceptable to all factions. He certainly de- 
pended on older music, not, however, for technical features of 
the metier but for sheer musical thought. As he grew older 
he quite obviously turned away from the musical current of 
his time, from the suave and sensuous style of the Neapolitans, 
to commune with the earlier composers, not the often-cited 
forerunners, but the forerunners of the forerunners, the long- 
buried Netherlanders and old Italians. Another such was 
Brahms, who consciously shunned the world of his contempo- 
raries, Wagner and Liszt, to return to his distant north German 
ancestors and to the glories of the Classic era. 

Thus it comes about that veritable monstrosities of historical 
judgment are calmly dished out to the student of music and 

[7] 



no one loses a heartbeat over them, whereas similar ineptitudes 
in the field of fine arts or literature would make life unattractive 
to their perpetrators. Let me quote a typical instance of this 
queer philosophy of history. There is scarcely a book on the 
appreciation of music that does not qualify the first two sym- 
phonies of Beethoven as being still " just like Haydn or 
Mozart." This, we must bear in mind, is a judgment of value 
which, of course, immediately trims the two great Classic 
composers of whatever merit they may have had in the previous 
chapter of the book, before they became forerunners. It is 
clear that this shallow sort of historical procedure which 
searches for similarities upon which to establish the continuity 
of evolution, only to dismiss the originator in favor of the 
exploiter, is not worthy of serious consideration. It rejects 
what was living in each period, of which the people of that 
period partook. It is no wonder then that until recent times 
(and in most academic institutions to this very day) the men 
of classical antiquity, the Middle Ages, and even the 16th and 
1 7th centuries, appear as deaf and dumb; and it was only in the 
days of Watteau and Hogarth and Tiepolo, that is, at the time 
when the sister art of painting was rather well established, 
that an obscure Protestant cantor emerges from the centuries 
of preparation to establish music as an art worthy of the 
other muses. 

An equally unsound approach professes to derive all facets 
of music from purely sociological circumstances. Again, the 
sociological is a most important factor in historiography, but 
its application to the history of art must be carefully balanced 
by other elements. There can be no question that society, the 
Church, musical establishments at the courts, or the middle 
class musical associations, cannot be separated from the music 
written for and practised by these institutions; still, it is not 
possible to distinguish what is essentially Haydnesque in Haydn 
from his role as a servant in the Esterhazy household. 

Surely it is not enough to know more or less about the 
historical data to understand a historical phenomenon, for what 
this phenomenon signifies can be learned not so much from 

[8] 



the phenomenon itself as from a general historical contempla- 
tion which poses the question whether there is a meaning be- 
hind that historical event and what this meaning is. In order 
to arrive at this understanding we must temporarily abandon 
the facts and avoid concentration on the objects nearest to the 
eye and must widen our glance to a view. In fact, we must 
remove ourselves from our subject to such an extent that we 
shall ask ourselves, what altogether does the history of music 
mean in human history? We may then discover that in the 
shuffle of details we have forgotten that the central theme of 
musical history is man. We are accustomed to see in literature 
or painting man as the centre of art, but we fail to realize that 
music is not only the expression of man — but that it is a repre- 
sentation of man too. It offers a picture of man under the 
point of view of the always prevailing human ideal. Now what 
is this human ideal? 

The dictionary explains the term " humanity " as " man's 
consciousness of himself as human in kind and as distinguished 
from the external and the superhuman world." The lexicog- 
rapher gives the Latin humanitas as the term from which the 
English word descended but fails to convey the full, or rather 
extended, meaning of humanitas; for the latter does not only 
signify the existence of such consciousness, it also embraces the 
will and desire for it, which gives the notion of humanity a 
much wider meaning. The historian knows that this desire 
for human consciousness is the more telling of the constituent 
parts of humanity. It certainly gave art its most important 
impetus. However, neither the existence of, nor the will for, 
human consciousness discloses a palpable content until the 
stream of history flows through it and endows it with life and 
color. And now we can say that the history of music, and of 
course of art in general, is in its most profound sense the ex- 
pression of the metamorphoses of humanity and of its ideals. 

The notion of humanity originated in antiquity. Not in 
Greece, as one would think, but in Rome — more precisely, 
in the Rome of Cicero who must be considered its creator. 
It did not originate in ancient Greece because the Greeks lived 

[9] 



the life of the Greek man, whereas the Ciceronian Romans, 
who ruefully felt themselves inferior to that life, considered 
the Grecian as the human ideal and made a cult of it. Thus 
humanity was the ideal of that cultivated world the less culti- 
vated Romans saw in Hellas. Cicero systematized this ideal 
and analyzed it in detail. In so doing he gave an answer to the 
Roman who aspired to rise to higher spheres, to become a man 
in the noblest sense of the word. Cicero's philosophy goes 
much beyond the immediate aims of the Roman world, for it 
implies what man should be in order to fulfill the high idea 
of man. 

We now should place the music of antiquity in this climate 
and see what happens, but we shall reserve this demonstration 
for the next era. We are so remote from the music of antiquity 
about which very little is known, that only a handful of 
specialized scholars would know what to do with it — and I am 
not among this elite. 

There are two characteristics which give the Christian ideal 
of humanity its particular content and cause it to differ dia- 
metrically from that of classical antiquity: a metaphysical basic 
tenet and the ascetic attitude, the fleeing from the world that 
naturally grew out from the first. The tremendous new idea 
with which Christianity eventually vanquished spiritually 
Greco-Roman antiquity is this: the meaning of life was shifted 
from the present to a metaphysical beyond. According to this 
new doctrine, which would have been incomprehensible to the 
man of antiquity, the purpose of all life on earth is to overcome 
this very life. As the radiant world of Hellas gave way to the 
somber world of Christianity, two indivisible doctrines came 
to the fore that gave to the hum emit as of antiquity its coup de 
grace: the tendency of fallen nature to evil, and the comple- 
mentary necessity of seeking salvation through supernatural 
forces. Theologically speaking, this is the notion of original 
sin and of grace. It stands to reason that this new humanity was 
strange not only to the man of dying antiquity but also to the 
unenlightened and unlettered Barbarian of the West. The 
Middle Ages cannot be appreciated unless we understand that 

[10] 



it exemplifies and represents the struggle of the former Bar- 
barians against a conception of life that was fundamentally 
alien to them. It was a struggle, but one that took the noblest 
and most profound form that a spiritual contest can assume — 
conquest from within. The West did not deny Christianity, 
rather it creatively experienced it, ultimately the Germanic 
lands finding their own version of it in the Reformed faiths. 

The music of these Middle Ages has interested the historian, 
and reams have been written about it. A very distinguished 
American monograph on the subject is evidence that we too 
have contributed our share to its exploration. Yet earlier 
medieval music, especially that of the Gothic era, seldom leaves 
the scholar's bookshelves, and is not heard except in classrooms 
where it is a duty to know it. We should admit that there is a 
seemingly unbridgeable gulf between this music and ourselves, 
and although we can decipher it and even explain its com- 
positional features, we are unable to abandon ourselves to its 
charms, for we cannot discern them. Yet another century, and 
as soon as the first rays of the Renaissance touch this art of the 
West, we have little trouble in experiencing the music of the 
time. What can it be that makes this music so forbidding? All 
contemporary documents speak of the esteem and admiration 
tendered to the master musicians of the Gothic; what did their 
own age see and hear in them that we cannot conjure up? Let 
us be faithful to the premises we started from and forget for 
the moment the great organa and motets of the Gothic and 
look at the circumstances under which they were composed. 

When probing into the music of the Middle Ages the first 
thing that strikes the student is the absence of folk and popular 
music. Until about 1300 such music is not even mentioned in 
any known document and we must advance well into the 14th 
century before we encounter more than traces of it. Curiously 
enough, the appearance of this folk art coincides with the rise 
of secular art music. Thus, on the one hand we have an elabo- 
rate literature of sacred music, the work of learned masters 
most of whom were clerics, on the other, the virtual absence of 
any other kind. It surely is not possible that the naive natural- 

[11] 



ism of the people which is the root of all artistic culture did not 
find an expression in the Middle Ages, for since the dawn of 
history such folk art, whether music or painting, has always 
been present. Folk song is, to quote the poet, the interpretation 
of our happiness and sorrow, the confession of individual exist- 
ence. Here is where our musical territory par excellence 
begins. The point of view of the people is naturalistic-mythi- 
cal, and its art can rise only to the point where nature and 
human imagination are still in rapport. This naturalism the 
people defended with tooth and nail against all outside in- 
fluence. The European peoples submitted to Christian the- 
ology, but beneath its veneer they clung to their naturalism, 
thus creating that twin outlook always characteristic of their 
practical thought, and it was this that created the dialectic 
development of the West which rests on the constant struggle 
of the two poles. The naturalistic instincts of the pre-Christian 
West were instantly aroused when it made contact with Medi- 
terranean metaphysics. Likewise, their naive conception of 
space and time, probably not clearly formulated, became 
articulate as soon as they were offered the eternity of time and 
the spaceless heaven. Much that in the first centuries had been 
proscribed by the Church now began to flourish following the 
absorption of the Barbarians. That secular music did flourish 
even though every trace of it has been erased, is clear from the 
many ecclesiastic censures against musicians other than the 
magistri of the church choir. This music had to be suppressed 
and proscribed because it ran completely counter to the dictates 
of the Church. 

According to that aspect of Christian theology based on 
chiliasm, the millennium of the theocratic kingdom, there is 
neither space nor time, for the reality of the world is God, who 
is a unity without time or space. Obviously there can be no 
ideological compromise between the theological and the popu- 
lar conception, but an empirical compromise was of course 
necessary and feasible. This was much more readily achieved 
in architecture than in music. It is characteristic of Gothic 
architecture that its formal principle does not follow natural 

[12] 



and even division of weight, that, instead of a practical and 
logical arrangement like that of the Renaissance, it strove for 
the fantastic and the supernatural. Its whole vertical, heaven- 
bound direction is opposed to the law of gravity, and the 
equilibrium of Gothic structures would be threatened were it 
not secured by buttresses and other elaborate auxiliaries. But 
these buttresses are on the outside and their function is hidden; 
they take no apparent part in the formation of the inner space 
or the frontal, principal picture. This is in harmony with the 
view expressed early in the Middle Ages that earthly stability 
is a necessary evil. So much for space. 

The same is true, and now we come closer to music, of 
the conception of time, or rather timelessness. The old painters 
whom we so condescendingly call " the primitives " had a very 
definite view in this regard. They followed the realistic popular 
concept of successive action, yet were trying to condense it 
into simultaneity. All this is relatively easy to explain, for the 
plastic arts, dependent on seeing, reach the external, and the 
external world is general. Even subjectivity is realized in col- 
lective signs, whereas in music even collectivism gains ex- 
pression through subjectivity. Or more specifically, in the fine 
arts even the most individual is conveyed through the general, 
whereas in music even the most universal appears through the 
individual. Therefore medieval art, embracing architecture, 
sculpture, and painting, may be somewhat strange to us but, 
unlike music, it never is forbidding, even to the layman. 

The musical counterpart of this Gothic art is indeed fright- 
ening to behold. Let us take the principal and highest art form, 
the motet. At the outset we must realize that according to 
every utterance from those times, whether by a theoretical 
writer or by a philosopher, the spatial conception of the fine 
arts weighs heavily on the subjectivistic nature of the lyric arts, 
causing the temporal quality of medieval polyphony to be a 
prisoner of a collective-universal spatial philosophy. The spirit 
of the motet makes the musical form timeless by mixing 
melodies of opposing nature and character in a manner that 
prevents their melting together; they remain separate entities. 

[13] 



The sounding together of these several tunes does not result 
in a true polyphony, it is only an enhanced sort of heterophony. 
The listener can direct his full attention to only one part at a 
time, because the other melodies do not attach themselves to 
the first one; they merely coincide with one another in a sort 
of deliberate accident. The more we try to take in the motet 
as a whole, the more the melodies disturb one another; thus 
we either jump from place to place or follow one melody and 
let the others remain in the background. The whole of the 
form — and an infinitely chiselled and incredibly complicated 
form it is — is nevertheless nothing but a document, the docu- 
ment of the superhuman force of the verb. This conclusion is 
inevitable if we take the motet in all its seriousness as it should 
be taken. The often expressed opinion that music was still in 
its experimental stage, that the motet, and medieval music in 
general, constitute a mere groping for elementary effects, is 
only a sign of ignorance of historical developments. If this 
type of construction is not the result of the most serious 
philosophical and theological conceptions it can only be 
humorous, like the many amusing pieces composed in later 
centuries under the name of quodlibet. However, it is hard to 
believe that the earnest and most learned masters of the Gothic 
wanted to play a game of hide and seek with their musical 
melodies. And now we can learn our lesson from history. That 
the forcing of a spatial conception on a temporal art can have 
such adverse effect is well illustrated in an analogous case, the 
crisis of music in the impressionist movement. At that point 
music had already passed its optimum, for the chance which the 
plastic arts gain in grasping the moment to render it in all its 
fleeting intensity is already a loss for music. For even though 
momentaneity is perhaps the most subjective manner of con- 
ception, it again excludes continuity, forcing music into spatial 
connections. Color, an eminently spatial element, becomes the 
dominant factor. 

We can now contrast the spirit of medieval church music 
with the contemporary folk art. The insurmountable wall be- 
tween them is not formed by their opposing qualities, by a 

[14] 



metaphysical-religious and a naturalistic-secular tendency; 
church music always had in it secular-popular elements. The 
unbridgeable gap is created by the philosophical orientation 
which underlies Christian liturgic music, an orientation which 
turns against nature, whereas the fount of folk music is 
naturalism. The collectivism of ecclesiastical metaphysics op- 
presses the subjective, relegating it into the background; 
whereas folk music, even when nourished by metaphysical 
elements, seeks to reconcile the subjective with the universal. 
Church thought clings to the principle of timelessness, and 
makes concessions to time to the minimal extent required by 
practical necessities; whereas the secular spirit of folk music 
regards time as the purest reality, hence the polar antithesis of 
the two which is apparent in every formal manifestation of 
their respective music. 

But there are still other capital differences between the two. 
Liturgic music of the Middle Ages is almost always declama- 
tory, i.e., it favors the text, while folk music is mostly purely 
" musical," endeavoring to render the poetic form through 
musical form. The text of ecclesiastic music is mainly in prose, 
whereas folk music is always in verse. In ecclesiastic music 
rhythmic structure and text are related only by the sense of the 
words, while in folk music the mood of the poem is so fully ab- 
sorbed by the music that rhythm rules even over the details of 
the poem. Medieval church music is denaturalized and there- 
fore its spirit is, strictly speaking, amusical; whereas folk music 
is music of the flesh, its texts are mostly amorous, its teacher is 
nature, it rises from bodily motions, and from sensual impulses. 
In ecclesiastic recitation the cadence is a logical close as repre- 
sented in the finalis. There is no rhythmic ratio between re- 
percussio and finalis, only a logical relationship. In folk music, 
leaning from the earliest date towards the major-minor system, 
the ratio of functional relationship between tonic, dominant 
and subdominant is an autonomous musical phenomenon and 
is largely independent of the text. 

Gothic music is, then, intellectual in its formal manifesta- 
tions, while folk music is purely esthetic. In the final analysis, 

[«5] 



it was the will for timelessness that created medieval ecclesiastic 
polyphony. There can be no question that a popular poly- 
phony existed centuries before the ecclesiastic variety, nor can 
there be any question that it was from this foundation that the 
ecclesiastic variety grew. But since the most primitive func- 
tional harmony uses cadences for delineation of formal propor- 
tions, such naturalistic-primitive and subjective music had to 
be opposed by the Church; it was therefore against the secular- 
ism of popular metrics that the magistri opposed their philo- 
sophical convictions. Far from strengthening functional logic, 
far from promoting even time proportions or the clear rhyth- 
mic accentuation of drums and cymbals, they wanted to efface 
everything that would detract from the contourless mystery 
of religion. 

The reverence we accord to the ars antiqua is, of course, fully 
justified. Nevertheless, we shall never be able to resuscitate this 
music, we shall never be able to get it beyond the musicological 
lecture room or the university chapel, for in this music the 
esthetic formulation of the materia muslca is not realized in 
time relations — the only kind we are able to experience — but 
one-sidedly in tone relations. The tone material itself is of 
secondary importance just as the man whose soul it represents 
is of secondary importance. The artistic form itself represents 
a value only insofar as it is liturgic, because, according to 
St. Augustine, while all art originates from humanity, man is 
not able to represent the divine perfectly. The master of the 
ars antiqua was more a theologian-philosopher than a musician, 
and music, unlike architecture but very much like philosophy, 
is merely ancilla theologiae, the symbol of timelessness. Never- 
theless, the esthetic pleasure the medieval artist derived from 
the arrangement, symmetry, and logic of abstract proportions 
was a very real one. 

As you can readily see, the metier which we so diligently 
explore is dwarfed by the tremendous issues raised by life and 
human ideals. Restricting ourselves to the technical aspects we 
may miss the meaning of it altogether. Some might say: " Well, 
in the Middle Ages this may hold true, but as soon as we can 

[16] 



exercise our native musical instinct we are on firm ground." 
All right, let us advance then on to this terra firma. 

When the Renaissance produced the great movement known 
as humanism the Ciceronian ideal of humanity was reborn. 
And yet, aside from superficial resemblances, the humanity of 
Cicero's time and that of the Renaissance are, viewed both 
historically and psychologically, two very different phe- 
nomena. The symbol reappeared, but could not be the same 
for, since Cicero, the world had greatly changed. The reborn 
symbol had to face the Christian ideal before it could assert 
itself. The great reckoning took place and the new ideal of 
humanity, while not denying the next world as a theological 
doctrine, yet in practice put emphasis upon this life on earth. 
This new hu?7 / tanitas could not believe that the purpose of life 
should be its own denial; on the contrary, it stood for the culti- 
vation of ever higher forms of life. The new humanity is, 
then, a conscious or unconscious protest against the Christian 
ideal of man the powerless; it again enthrones man as the 
measure of all things, and man becomes the meaning of history. 
Humanism is the conception of life from the point of view of 
man. 

Music faithfully reflects the great upheaval that is implicit in 
the rise of this new aspect of life. The small garden of secular 
music grows into a vast nursery of flowers. Frottola, villanella, 
madrigal, chanson occupy the composers, and the output spills 
over the old boundaries to inundate the entire domain of 
music. 

With the easing of the theological pressure, as scholasticism 
was displaced, a pantheistic conception of nature creeps into 
the world of the Renaissance. Painter and sculptor embrace 
realism and the architect emphasizes naturalness in static ar- 
rangements. With the use of perspective the visual arts reach 
a milestone of demarcation, yet they still conceive of space as 
non-existent. Of course, in the representation of miracles, 
naturalistic space is by the nature of the subject negated, but 
more revealing is the fact that such pictures do seek to convey 
the impression of abstract or ideal space, — the artificial space 

[17] 



of the studio, or the unreal and seemingly weightless expanse 
of the cupola. 

This situation is paralleled in music. We have spoken of the 
two poles that are in constant opposition: theological phi- 
losophy and naturalism. In music, the lower pole encompasses 
folk song and folk dance, from which grew the general type 
of western song and dance. This folk music is, of course, the 
result of a popular, naive-naturalistic conception of time and 
likes to build on a pulsating group-rhythm. Being the product 
of an essentially subjective conception, it can and does lead to 
the richest and most characteristic territories of music. But it 
could not achieve these higher art forms by its own resources 
because popular art follows nature in seeking everywhere the 
simplest basic patterns which it defends stubbornly against 
encroachment. It is for this reason that this art never proceeds 
on its own beyond an elementary dynamism, that the higher 
dynamism which reflects the struggle of universal forces is 
missing in the art forms of the people. The monochrome of its 
world outlook restricts folk art to the narrow region of artistic 
forms which is characterized by an. even distribution of the 
collective and subjective elements on the plane of the naive- 
universal. 

But the immense attraction exerted by this music on the 
learned composer of the rising Renaissance was the functional 
tonality embodied in folksong, especially since this functional 
tonality was not restricted to the major-minor modes but was 
tied to the subjectivity and to the naturalistic sense of time 
which accompanies the former. Thus, such functional rela- 
tionship can exist even within the ecclesiastic modes if the 
cadencing is not dependent on a rhetorical order but is au- 
tonomously musical. The fundamental difference between 
church and folk music is therefore not to be sought in the 
scales upon which they are built but on the application of the 
time element. The same scale can have two meanings. If it 
follows the logic and sense of the prose text it will be governed 
by its finalis; if it organizes autonomously musical proportions 
it becomes functional. In one case the cadence represents the 

[18] 



end of sections in asymmetric proportions, in the other it signi- 
fies the end of relatively evenly proportioned segments and con- 
veys a definitely functional feeling. Thus, contrary to a wide- 
spread belief, functional architecture is not the sole property 
of the major-minor system, but a general characteristic of 
autonomous musical thought. 

The procedure whereby these life-giving elements of folk 
music gained first slow and then rapid acceptance in art music 
is quite similar to the just mentioned procedures in architecture. 
Popular polyphony, from which grew our western art music, 
was originally essentially variation. Bourdon and round, in 
which the melody, so to speak, plays with itself, intensify them- 
selves by strengthening, widening, constricting, or projecting 
the line. But it is lacking in such spiritual traits as would deepen 
its significance. We might say that popular polyphony is the 
result of an effort to amplify an already existing form in all its 
details. Popular polyphony therefore is really a mere variant 
of the monophonic presented simultaneously. This polyphony 
is a playful, hedonistic enjoyment of sound patterns. Against 
this stands ecclesiastic art music with anything but playful 
intentions; for while popular polyphony represents the in- 
tensification of such independent-musical forms as need no 
intensification, to which polyphony brings not an essential but 
only a quantitative addition, ecclesiastic polyphony implies a 
multiplicity of moods, a metaphysical deepening. Therefore 
this music, which interprets a sacred text, will always have a 
mystical background in which hides a residue that cannot be 
brought to the surface. 

It was in this ecclesiastic polyphony, as suffused by the ele- 
ments of popular-secular music, that the most characteristic 
trait of occidental music was born: the searching, penetrating, 
probing quality we feel so intensely in more recent music, but 
which was nonetheless present in earlier music. But let us make 
no mistake about one thing: this music of the Renaissance, 
which unlike the music of the Gothic is accessible to us, is no 
longer the work of the composer schooled in Augustinian 
thought, to whom time and space did not exist. While still 

[19] 



clinging to a good many of the old tenets, he now composes 
music that can stand on its own as music. In the measure that 
popular music made itself felt in the course of the historical 
development of contrapuntal forms, the rhythmic and tonal 
construction demands a voice in musical architecture. And 
the optimum is reached when popular elements, notably the 
dance forms, are completely assimilated and stylized, while at 
the same time the tendency of polyphony to profundity is re- 
tained but is dependent on a musical logic. 

This music, from Dufay to Josquin, is fairly well known, 
but curiously enough it is again the metier that is extolled, the 
unquestionably fantastic contrapuntal ability of these com- 
posers, while the idea, as usual, is ignored. And yet what 
important (and at times embarrassing) conclusions can be 
gained by studying history as a development of ideas and not 
techniques! First of all, ever since Dufay, musicians have de- 
clared, first timidly, then emphatically, the oneness of music, 
that is, that there is no essential difference between sacred and 
secular music: everything depends in art on the purpose and 
mode of expression. This is the great contribution of the 
Renaissance humanitas in the field of music. That subsequently, 
as in the wake of the Reformation, or during the Palestrina 
revival, the essential oneness of music was again questioned, 
even hotly denied, should not mislead us; any intelligent study 
of the history of church music shows that the stream of music 
could never again be deflected by extramusical powers; the old 
fundamental division between sacred and secular music, qua 
music , is gone forever. 

Noble attempts have been made to return to the old medieval 
concept. The master of the Sainte Chapelle, the earnest 
Flemish composer Ockeghem, tried to return to the contour- 
less mystery of the Gothic and his appearance must be con- 
sidered a sort of neo-Gothic revival. At his death the French 
poets bewailed his passing in words accorded to princes, and 
indeed Ockeghem was called princeps musicae; his thirty-six 
part motet is mentioned as one of the world's wonders, and his 
contrapuntal technique, canonic and imitative writing, were 

[20] 



held unsurpassable. But this coldly glowing genius eagerly 
summoned his immense musical wizardry in order to cool his 
fever, to erect barriers for his passions. For this man is the last 
of the possessed in whom the eternal soaring, the mystery, the 
endless melody and endless counterpoint, the heaven-reaching 
architecture of the musical cathedrals of the Gothic once more 
raise their voice against the new humanity of the Renaissance. 
This art could not be continued by anyone else, and those who 
attempted it produced nothing but mannerism. 

It was no longer possible to compose music for the church 
that would be fundamentally different from secular music. It 
is true that Mass and motet took their departure from premises 
that were different from those of madrigal and chanson; but 
the chanson melodies intruded into the Mass and motet, and 
now the chanson tune came to have equal rights with the 
Gregorian chant as the material upon which a sacred work can 
be built. Some of the most exalted sacred liturgic works were 
composed upon popular Franco-Flemish dance tunes, amorous 
songs, or bantering ditties. The listeners, unlike their 19th 
century brethren who thought such a procedure almost sacri- 
legious, were not scandalized, because they were children of 
the new humanity, to whom a good melody was a noble 
melody, perfectly proper under any auspices. Much has been 
made of the presence of these chanson tunes in liturgical music, 
but all the conjectures and censures advanced in historically 
uninformed books are false. What mattered was the good tune, 
which remained good in or out of church, and the original 
connotations were simply forgotten when ha belle se sied was 
turned into Deus pater omnipotens. In its turn, the chanson 
showed influences emanating from motet and Mass, for to- 
gether with the happy melodic sallies there are tears and sighs 
scarcely hidden behind the courtly exterior, or as the chanson 
itself says: Triste plaisir et douloureuse joie. How unjustly the 
world has judged this great music and these great musicians, 
every inch the equal of their much more famous confreres in 
the other arts. It has granted them respect but mainly on 
account of their redoubtable craft of composition. Well, their 

[21] 



compositional style eventually became antiquated, but not 
their melodies, those wonderful, everlasting melodies that have 
lived on for centuries. But it is no longer permissible to praise 
a church musician for his melodies; he should not choose 
melodies for their sheer beauty, and he should not be too happy 
about them either. Ever since the 19th century Romantic 
movement and the essentially super-Romantic Palestrina re- 
vival, church music stands for unmitigated gloom, relieved only 
by a plentiful and sanctimonious use of dominant seventh 
chords. 

Let us examine one more metamorphosis of humanitas, one 
much closer to us in time. I am referring to the so-called Classic 
era, the last third of the 1 8th century, and extending through 
the first quarter of the 19th. The word has become ambiguous 
in these days, when the record manufacturers advertise not 
only the " Classics " but also the " Semi-Classics," a definition 
that would stump a bevy of philologists. However, the philolo- 
gists do not have to worry because our authors and critics 
simplify their task considerably. These worthies equate Classi- 
cism with formalism, and every one of you must have come 
across the statement that for the Classic composer form was 
the primary concern; content was secondary if not negligible. 
According to this opinion, amiable and rather playful com- 
posers such as Haydn and Mozart, compass and ruler in hand, 
created nicely designed formal schemes which they then pro- 
ceeded to fill in with some pretty music. This idyllic and a bit 
irresponsible music-making came to an end only with the ad- 
vent of Beethoven, who, to quote the title of an incredible 
book that not so long ago had great currency, was " the man 
who freed music." What did he free it from? The pseudo- 
historians are ready with the answer: from the fetters of 
objectivity. This may sound humorous to those who know 
the music of the Classic era, but unfortunately it was meant 
in earnest and still enjoys great authority. For did not Law- 
rence Gilman, one of our famous and influential critics, call all 
classical symphonies as similar to one another as the buns baked 
in the 1 8th century baker's oven? What is this formalism, this 

[22] 



objectivity that allegedly circumscribes the work of the Classic 
composer, apparently preventing him from projecting his true 
feelings in his music? 

First of all, we must remember that what we call the Classic 
era was preceded by a period that goes under the name of 
Sturm und Drang, Storm and Stress. The poets and composers 
of the Storm and Stress represent a human type that has been 
known for a long time yet always appears as new. They are 
the dissatisfied and the rebellious, the iconoclasts and the de- 
stroyers of form, the ones who always start and seldom finish 
things. They live dangerously and dynamically, they are for- 
ever excited and addicted to excesses; they want to widen the 
world, and in so doing form and measure drop from their hands. 
In a word, they are the revolutionaries who time and again 
return in western art, who are both its embers and its bellows. 
They are the eternal Romanticists. Their role is the same 
whether in the north or in the south: they rip apart and unravel 
the fabric of music in order to liberate the magic hidden in the 
threads. There is a direct line leading from these 1 8th century 
Romanticists to their more grandiose and durable brethren of 
the 19th century; but before Romanticism became the artistic 
faith of an entire century it paused for an entre'acte which we 
call the Classic era. Indeed, we must begin to realize that in 
the few decades of the Classic era we are not dealing with a 
style period that follows and is followed in an orderly fashion 
by others, but, as I have just said, with an interlude, around 
which the previous stylistic current merely parts as around an 
island, only to reunite at the other end. That the epoch-mak- 
ing synthesis that is 18th century Classicism blinds us to the 
current that flows around it is perhaps understandable, though 
not pardonable. As a teacher of a good many years' experience 
I defy any student to name the names of the Romantic com- 
posers, many of them well worth knowing, who refused to go 
along with the sonata ideal which was the quintessence of 
Classic musical thought, who in fact, rebelled against it. And 
yet they were there, before Schubert and Weber, even before 
Beethoven reached his peak. 

[23] 



Viewed from this perspective we will understand that from 
the subjectivism of the Sturm und Drang there arose a new 
phase of humanity which, judged by its tendency, could be 
called nothing else but objective. But this new objectivity did 
not aim at displacing the subjectivity of the Storm and Stress 
movement, only at taming its amorphous excesses. And the 
remarkable fact is that this sobering up of the movement or, 
if you please, this new objectivity, did not come from without, 
but began in the souls of the very men who once were buffeted 
by the tempest. They changed because they discovered that 
their boundless subjectivism did not lead to a heightening of 
life, rather to a debasement of it, which found its poetic symbol 
in the suicide of Werther. 

The music of Vienna did, once more, gather and elevate, 
achieve the miracle of synthesis, and this after Baroque weight, 
Rococo lightness, and pre -Romantic excitement. Once more 
every extreme is reconciled in the noblest equilibrium, to be- 
come the ultimate harmony of Europe's music, its topless 
tower, and its third and perhaps final crowning; a harvest that 
can come only after the most bountiful summer. This Classic 
synthesis offers a new, intimate yet spacious, peaceful and 
warming home to humanity, a home whither it can always 
return and where it always will be on well-loved ground. This 
home and this security appear as a new idea and a new dis- 
covery after the rootless wanderings of early Romanticism. 
The world has found out that sunshine is preferable to eerie 
moonlight pierced by lightning, that the sky is more beautiful 
than the clouds, and sobriety better than eternal intoxication. 
But above all, it found out that only arrival gives sense to 
travel. The aged Haydn proudly declared that his London 
symphonies are understood by the whole world. Indeed, by 
the end of the century we no longer speak of German music, 
for this music became the musical language of the world, as in 
the two previous supreme syntheses the musical language of 
the Franco-Flemish composers and later of the Neapolitans 
became the language of the world. For in these symphonies 
of Haydn, as in the works of Mozart and of the other masters 

[24] 



of the era, there speaks a musicianship that is universal, timeless, 
and valid under all circumstances. This music is not one solu- 
tion or one aspect, nor is it a personal matter; it speaks to all 
peoples. 

But Classicism does not stand for Olympian calm, cold re- 
serve, haughty isolation from all that is disturbing or dissonant. 
On the contrary, the mature Classic style shows interest in 
every tributary stream because its principal aim, and its very 
nature, is to contain the whole in every detail. 

And now, returning to the lamented formalism of the Classic 
era, I should like to use a comparison from architecture, always 
felicitously related to music. The post-Baroque composers, the 
stragglers, the fugue-writers, who were clinging to contra- 
puntal structures when the world around them was more in- 
terested in decoration than in architecture, had lost the feeling 
for the life-giving substance that animated the true Baroque. 
What remained from the Baroque were the bare walls which 
stood there somberly, even menacingly, defying the new spirit 
that was pouring in from the south. The musical architects of 
that post-Baroque era were at heart fortress engineers and not 
church and palace builders, and they constructed bastions in- 
stead of colonnades. The Austrians, hemmed in by their 
northern and southern neighbors, Germans and Italians, were 
destined to reconcile the two musical cultures and in so doing 
to create a synthesis that was to conquer the world of music. 
They drove the hollow gloom from their edifices and they tore 
down the bastions, and in their stead built graceful spires. But 
let us make no mistake: the silly comparisons with Watteau and 
the fetes galantes can only be ascribed to ignorance of history 
as well as music. For while the bastions were torn down, the 
massive foundations were kept, and the spires, although grace- 
ful and airy, had their own strength and majesty. This was 
still constructive architecture and not interior decoration. 

The modern listener, used to the opulence of the Wagner- 
Strauss-Sibelius orchestral world, may be a bit disappointed 
when he enters the world of the Classic sonata which includes 
everything from string quartet to Mass. He will find the in- 

[25] 



terior of these works on a smaller scale, and will look around 
somewhat embarrassed. He will find things apparently so well 
organized that every little stone has its formal and ordained 
spot that denies the flight of fancy. This disappointment ac- 
companies every centrally constructed edifice, especially if the 
portals through which the beholder enters do not prepare and 
inform him about the underlying plan. What is the portal, 
the principal opening subject of a Classical symphony? Com- 
pared to the ample melody of a late Romantic symphony it is 
indeed frugal and lapidary; but unlike the Romantic sym- 
phony, which exists right from the beginning and then en- 
deavors to maintain this existence, the Classical symphony 
grows, grows like a centrally planned structure. And the more 
harmonious the interior of a building the smaller the immediate 
dynamic effect it creates. No one would guess the actual 
vastness of St. Peter's in Rome unless he paces the nave. Only 
when we become oriented, when our eyes — or in this instance 
our ears — get used to the proportions, when we begin to 
measure without pacing, will the phenomenon grow and be- 
come understandable. 



# 



I have endeavored to single out three periods from the more 
than two thousand years of recorded musical history to demon- 
strate that philosophical ideas, changing as the style periods 
themselves do, always profoundly influence the very concept 
of music. Penetration into the inner dynamics, tension, and 
rhythm of events — that is, into history — into the interplay 
of being and value, is the first requisite of the study of the 
growth of an art. This leads to more than an understanding of 
the past and the present; it also offers an anticipatory interpre- 
tation of the future. 



[26] 



Date Due 


PFC 1 3 '62 
























9 -\ 1 
























































































































Library Bureau Cat. No. 1137 






WELLESLEY COLLEGE LIBRARY 




3 5002 03353 4467 




Music ML 60 . L236 

WELLESLEY COLLEGE LIBRARY 
Lang, Paul Henry, 1901- 



Music and history